AUGUSTA — State Rep. Thomas Winsor of Norway, starting his sixth legislative term, clearly is no stranger to the workings of the State House.
But this session, the Republican has chosen – at least in one respect – not to take part.
According to a list of bill titles, he’s one of just seven lawmakers — all members of the House and six of them Republicans — who hadn’t submitted any bills by the Jan. 18 deadline for most bill requests.
Legislators can still introduce bills with approval from the Legislative Council, the branch’s governing body.
The one Democrat who didn’t submit a bill, Rep. Helen Rankin of Hiram, had heart surgery in December, got out of rehabilitation recently and spent her first day in the Legislature on Tuesday, said Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Democrats.
Most of the legislators without bills to their name are freshmen from rural areas in Aroostook and Washington counties.
While two first-term legislators say they want time to soak in the atmosphere before taking the lead on a bill, Winsor said he’s most focused on his work on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee – the committee that reviews the state budget and is known for its daunting workload.
It will be busy, with three budget shortfalls to address, including a projected $756 million difference between projected expenditures and revenues for the two years starting July 1.
Winsor said he hasn’t heard of many specific pieces of law that his constituents want to change.
“No one’s come to me with a fire across their tail,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough and I’m not going to put a bill in that I think is not warranted or that I think isn’t going to go anywhere.”
Freshmen who haven’t submitted bills tell a different story.
“With freshmen, (many) have a justified idea that when they get there for the first time, they want to get to know the Legislature and know their committee before jumping in,” said David Sorensen, spokesman for House Republicans.
One new representative talked sheepishly about her experience in Augusta.
“I feel like I’m the new girl in school,” said Rep. Ellen Winchenbach, R-Waldoboro. “I’ve got a few ideas in my head, but I’m taking it slow because this is a learning experience.”
Also feeling his way is first-term Rep. Mike Nadeau, R-Fort Kent, who upset Democrat John Martin of Eagle Lake in November.
Martin, who first entered the Legislature in 1964, was speaker of the House for nearly two decades. He was known as one of the largest power brokers Maine politics has seen.
His successor said, “I’m starting at the pace that I feel comfortable with and building some relationships with people who I think I can work with.
“I think it was wise for me to not get into throwing in bills at this moment,” Nadeau said.
Sorensen said more experienced legislators might decide not to submit bills because they favor limited government.
“Republicans generally have a philosophy of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ Less legislation is better,” he said. “Democrats usually want to legislate more than Republicans.”
Rep. Tyler Clark, R-Easton, said, ideally, the fewer bills introduced, the better.
Though the three-term legislator submitted bills in the last Legislature — including a contentious one to require a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could get an abortion in Maine, which didn’t pass — he has none this time.
“I’m not going to put forward a particularly partisan bill that doesn’t have a chance of passing,” Clark said. “It’s a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of my time.”
That doesn’t satisfy one of Clark’s constituents, called at random Tuesday.
“What is he doing down there if he’s not putting in bills to represent the community?” said Joanne Samon, a Democrat who said she didn’t vote for Clark, who won 60 percent of the vote in Easton in November.
Like Clark, Winsor sponsored controversial legislation in the last session — two bills that would have banned mandatory union dues in public- and private-sector unions.
Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, has submitted two similar bills for this session that surely won’t pass in this Democrat-controlled Legislature.
“I think it would be good for workers and businesses,” Winsor said of so-called right-to-work legislation. “But I don’t think it’s the time to get into that battle here.”
For Nadeau, the first battle was winning election by providing a stark contrast with Martin, a political legend – for better or worse.
One constituent, called at random, didn’t seem to mind that his new representative hasn’t submitted any bills.
“He’s new,” said Peter Pinette of Fort Kent. “We’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Nadeau said that by gaining knowledge and influence early on, he’ll be able to advocate for his district as well as if he submitted legislation.
“My constituents were telling me that things were out of order and a lot of these longtime politicians, not necessarily Mr. Martin, weren’t close with the people,” he said. “It’s easy to pass a bill, but you need to spend time with the people.”
State House Bureau Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at: [email protected]